Julie Ann Hanson

Police bust alleged killer, rapist half a century after 15-year-old girl found stabbed to death in cornfield

Julie Ann Hanson was just 15 years old when her body was discovered in a Naperville, Illinois, cornfield on July 8, 1972. She had been stabbed 36 times and investigators believe she was also sexually assaulted.

Nearly 49 years passed without an arrest – until this week.

Authorities on Wednesday charged 76-year-old Barry Lee Whelpley with three counts of first-degree murder in connection with Hanson’s death, KARE 11 reports.

Whelpley was 27 years old and lived in Naperville about a mile from Hanson’s home at the time of the killing, according to the Daily Herald.

On the evening Hanson vanished, she had been seen riding her bicycle to a brother’s baseball game. An older sister reported her missing the following afternoon, as her parents were not home when she disappeared, according to the newspaper.

Hanson’s body was found later in the day in a cornfield about two miles from her house.

Police did not identify any potential perpetrators immediately following the crime, but local authorities continued to work the case, assess tips and eliminate potential suspects.

As the newspaper reports, police eventually identified Whelpley using what has become an increasingly common tool: familial DNA and genealogy databases. A break came when detectives tapped the resources of a California company that uses forensic genealogy in investigations.

At a news conference on Friday, Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall told reporters that his department never stopped searching for Hanson’s killer.

“This horrific crime has haunted this family, this community and this department for 49 years,” Marshall said, according to KARE 11. “The investigation and resulting charges were truly a team effort that spanned decades, and I could not be more proud of the determination and resourcefulness of our investigators, both past and present, who never gave up on Julie.”

Hanson’s family released a statement, according to KARE 11. The statement reads: “As you might assume it has been a long journey for our family. We are forever grateful. To all those who have worked on this case throughout the many years, we would especially like to thank ‘Team Julie,’ who are truly Julie’s heroes.”

A neighbor at the time of the abduction said she had fond memories of Hanson.

“She was very personable, a very sweet girl,” Peggy Thompson told WLS-TV. “She was only a couple of years older than us, but she babysat some of the kids in the neighborhood.”

Whelpley was living in Minnesota when he was arrested. Little else is known about him, except that he had worked as a welder, has two daughters and has been divorced three times, according to the Daily Herald.

He is being held on a $10 million bond and authorities intend to extradite him back to Illinois to face prosecution.

To report information about Whelpley or the investigation, call the Naperville Police Department at 630-420-6665.

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